An open letter to Gary Massey, personal injury attorney and pulpit preacher at Mountain Creek Church of Christ, Chattanooga, TN
I recently watched your sermon entitled “Should family members of homosexuals be expelled from church?” as delivered to Mountain Creek Church of Christ in Chattanooga, TN last month. I am writing as a sister in Christ to share my deep concerns about the content and character of your sermon.
The occasion of your sermon was to uphold the decision of Ridgedale Church of Christ for expelling a family who were seen supporting their daughter, Kat Cooper, a detective in Collegedale, in her plea for benefits to be extended to same-sex couples who are employed by the city. You state in very clear terms that you support the church who delivered an ultimatum - the mother could repent for her sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation or leave the church where her family has worshipped for over 60 years.
First, let me say that I understand that you believe with all of your heart and mind that the bible teaches that individuals who engage in homosexual behavior are going to hell. I understand that you read the bible in a very literal way, well in some places, and that you follow all the laws of the bible, well, except the one’s that you don’t. I also understand that you believe it is your duty as a Christian to work to save souls of sinners and to protect the souls of the righteous who might somehow be in danger of sinning when they love unconditionally.
So I took the time to listen to your whole sermon, and I even listened to a couple more, and God has put it on my heart for me to speak the truth in love to help you where you may be going astray, where you might need to look closely at your sin, and repent.
I realize that since I am a woman my words will hold little value to you. I further understand that because I am gay you do not believe that I have any right to claim the name Christian. I invite you to get to know me through more of my posts here to understand how deeply Christian I truly am. I could take this opportunity to point out how unfortunate your own lifestyle is. I am of course referring to the fact that you are a practicing attorney. As one who reads the bible very carefully I am sure you realize that lawyers were not exactly on Jesus’ good side. I am not going to disparage lawyers so much as point out that your two professions together give me the theological heebie-jeebies. See lawyers are associated with the Pharisees in several places in Luke (Luke 7:30; 14:3) and are typically understood in opposition to Jesus in the Gospels, (Matt. 22:35, Luke 1:25; Luke 11:45-52).
But for now, let’s leave behind that which separates us and focus on what binds us – God’s love.
I want to start with a scripture you quote very late in your address to the congregation. You seem to read the bible through the lens of the ex-pharisee Paul rather through the lens of God incarnate, Jesus. You quote from a letter written by Paul to a very specific community regarding a very specific series of conflicts and power struggles in the church of Corinth. You read 2 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 7-8 (plucked out of it’s context like much of the scripture you rapidly fired into the congregation) – here is that verse: “so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”
I find a passage on forgiveness a curious place to plant a flag in a sermon about expelling members from a church. It is almost as if you did not hear the words you were reading. And that got me to thinking that perhaps you simply do not understand what the bible is about. So I prayed a lot about your sermon, I read my own bible and I even watched your sermon entitled “God is Love” that you delivered back in February and the Spirit did provoke me to reach out to you to help you better understand the bible, how it differs from The Word and perhaps move you to accept the work of the Spirit in the world today.
I think the greatest place in your sermon that we could perhaps work to help you better understand is where you lean in to frighten your congregation by comparing the spreading evil to the work of yeast. I find this a curious analogy for a few reasons. First, you are calling the unconditional love of parents for their child evil. This of course is simply wrong, but we can get to that a little later. Yeast is indeed understood in many biblical passages as a negative, corrosive agent. What is troubling for me is that you seem to forget when Jesus compared yeast to the Kingdom of God. Here, let me help you out a bit.
“And again he said, to what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” Luke 13:20-21
Now I imagine this parable is likely problematic for you since God is portrayed as a woman and that She conceals rather than reveals through a substance that in every other biblical instance represents corruption or evil. So in the ears of the original hearers this parable was a startling, offensive message that likens the reign of God to corruptive yeast. In other words Jesus’ story paints a picture of God’s realm as one that reverses previous notions of holiness – no longer unleavened but leavened by persons and behavior that would have been considered corrupt, unclean or sinful according to prevailing interpretations of purity laws. Yes – totally absurd! Jesus has the gaul to tell us that the kingdom (that which is holy and good) is to be imagined as an epiphany of corruption? How radical is this Jesus (that legalists will conspire with the state to execute)? So radical that it subverts a ready listener’s dependency on the rules of the sacred, the predicability of what is good and right, an warns that instead, the expected evil that the religious elite abhor will corrupt is indeed the kingdom of God.
With this rendering of a core message of the gospel I would like to point you back to a sermon of your own where you boldly claim that God is love. listen again to ywow own sermon where you acknowledge that we all have a fundamental need for love, sermon where you admit that we all spend a great deal of time and energy seeking love. I want you to consider the call you expect gay and lesbian people to live – that we reject a fundamental aspect of our createdness and live as half humans – and in so doing we reject the hand of the potter who fashioned us to love in the way we do – and in so doing we reject God in whose image we are made.
The evil you imagine spreading through your congregation, through the hearts and minds of other Christians is in fact the yeast of unconditional love that a mother has for her child. The yeast is hidden in the otherwise unleavened bread of the human heart.
It is my prayer that this reflection on what Jesus had to say might enter your heart, bring you closer to Jesus and set your feet on a path lit by God’s love and embolden your voice to proclaim the liberating Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that welcomes into the body of Christ, INTO THE KINGDOM, even the families of homosexuals. Even homosexuals.
“Let me tell you about this God.
A God who has always used imperfect people.
A God whose loving desire to be known overflowed the heavens and became manifest in the rapidly dividing cells inside the womb of an insignificant peasant girl in first century Palestine.
A God who slipped into skin and walked among us full of grace and truth with sand between his toes. Who ate with all the wrong people. And kissed lepers and touched the unclean and spoke through thirsty women and hungry men. Who from the cross did not even lift a finger to condemn the enemy but instead said I would rather die than be in the sin accounting business anymore.” ~ pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor who serves The House for All Sinner and Saints in Colorado.
Your sister in Christ,